RANCHO MIRAGE — One might think that Kathy Whitworth was born 20 years too soon, considering that in 1965 she won eight LPGA tournaments and was the leading money winner with $28,658, yet she has played in just six tournaments and already has earned $28,926 without a victory in 1985.
However, Whitworth, in her 27th season on tour, says she wouldn't change anything if she could. "Those of us who were pioneers in the early days of the LPGA have memories we wouldn't trade for money."
Chuckling as she recalled those days, she said, "the players lined up the sponsors, got the golf courses, arranged the schedules, set up the golf course and made the pairings. Heck, we even sold tickets around town. Then we played."
And play she has. No player has competed so consistently well for such a long period of time.
Whitworth has won at least one tournament for a record 17 consecutive years, including 10 wins in one year, 9 in another and 8 in two others.
She has been the LPGA's leading money winner eight times, it's Player of the Year seven times and has won the Vare Trophy (for the lowest scoring average each year) seven times.
Twice Whitworth was named the Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press and was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1975.
Whitworth, 45, is golf's all-time tournament winner with 87 and she will be shooting for No. 88 this week in the $400,000 Nabisco Dinah Shore which opens Thursday at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. It is the richest LPGA major championship and next Sunday a $55,000 payoff awaits the winner.
"We consider the Dinah Shore our Masters," said Whitworth, the first female golfer to win $1 million. "You have to qualify for it (the Dinah Shore), so you have a select field of the best players. Even though I had about 70 winsor so at the time (actually she had 77), one of my biggest thrills was winning the Dinah Shore in 1977. I probably got more recognition for that one victory than any other."
Whitworth has done well in that event in recent years. She tied for 10th last year and was second in 1983, lust two shots behind winner Amy Alcott.
Whitworth won three times in 1984 and totaled earnings of $146,401, her second best year in money winnings. That placed her eighth on the '84 money list.
A barometer of her steady play and skill is reflected in scoring averages. When she reigned as Player of the Year in 1973, she averaged 73.12 strokes per round. In 102 rounds last year, she averaged 72.82.
Whitworth says that for the first time in five years she doesn't face the pressure of having to accomplish a historic milestone.
"First there was all that pressure of being the first to win a million dollars. Next it was Mickey's (Wright) record of 82 wins, then passing that number. Then it was getting 84 wins and tying Sam Snead. Last year, it was getting by Sam. Thankgoodness that's all over with," she said.
"People would come up to me and say, 'Kathy, you've got to be the first. You've got to win the most.' Shoot, I was a nervous wreck before I ever got to the first tee.
"Incidentally, when I won No. 85 in the Rochester Invitational, Sam Snead telephoned me and congratulated me. He was very gracious about it."
She got No. 86 in the Safeco tournament in Seattle and No. 87 in the Irish Ladies Open. "I was kinda proud of that one," she said. "It was the first official LPGA tournament I've ever won on foreign soil."
Whitworth says she does not have any specific future goals. "Why limit yourself. Why not be the greatest player in the world. I might as well shoot the works and go for 100 (victories). Seriously, I just play the best I can. I get a great pleasure out of playing golf."
Second in all-time LPGA winnings to JoAnne Carner, who has banked $1,545,298, will Whitworth go for $2 million? "If I'm around long enough to make another half-million, why not. I've been blessed with good health and don't have any swing problems.
"And I certainly haven't lost my nerves. And it's not like I can't take it (the putter) back. But you'll probably have to bury me under the first tee."